Shalom House and the Kimberley Community
United Methodist Women supports Shalom House, a preschool program for children from some of the poorest communities in South Africa that prepares them to attend school at a very early age. Watch the school’s 2012 graduation and thank-you video to UMW.
United Methodist Women is helping ensure that about 60 of South Africa’s most vulnerable children start out on the right foot every year. The adorable faces of these children, some of whom are featured in the graduation video, belie the challenging circumstances that are their everyday reality. The U.N. Millennium Development Goals aim to create a world in which we eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, among other aspirations. This project is a tangible way in which United Methodist Women is doing its part to realize these goals and leave the world better off for future generations.
About Shalom House and the Kimberley Community
Shalom House is a preschool run by the Beaconsfield United Methodist Church in South Africa. It is located at the southern part of Kimberley, in one of the poorest sections, and is proud to be the most affordable school in the area. The school originally started with 15 children but has grown to serve more than 90 children in the past few years.
The school was established about 40 years ago by the wife of one of the church’s ministers as a simple child care facility for working mothers. It was not an official school then, but over the years it has shown how essential it is to the Kimberley community, whose needs have grown exponentially.
Kimberley, South Africa, also known as the Big Hole, is one of the most important towns in South Africa. It is the site where the Eureka, the first diamond found in South Africa, was discovered. By 1888, the global consortium of mining companies in the area consolidated into the De Beers Group, creating the global diamond giant that has dominated the diamond scene, for better and for worse, since then.
What did the people of Kimberley get in exchange for the excavation of their lands? Just like the emptiness of the Big Hole, the community has been in steady decline since the mines closed. The demographics of the area have changed in the past decade, with middle-income earners having become lower-income earners, and with growing unemployment and fewer opportunities for people to adequately support their families and children. Kimberley has one of the highest unemployment rates within South Africa, rampant crime and suicide rate twice the national average.
Breaking the Cycle of Poverty in South Africa
What does this mean for the children in the area? Since most generations of adults are involved in manual labor, education is not considered a priority; the need to make money for everyday survival takes precedence. Substance abuse is widespread, and addicts range from young children to the elderly. Many children are forced to live on the streets because of violence in their homes or the lack of parental supervision. The people in this community very much live a hand-to-mouth existence, and many will do anything to earn an income.
The latest annual child report from the Children’s Institute, based at the University of Cape Town, found that South Africa still has one of the highest rates of inequality in the world despite the end of apartheid, “with a black child 18 times more likely to grow up poor than his or her white counterpart.” Many black families live in shanty towns of makeshift houses assembled from cardboard boxes, sheets of corrugated metal and other scrap materials. “Children who are born to poor parents and grow up in poor households are likely to remain poor, and in this way the inequalities of apartheid are reproduced,” the report noted.
Shalom House seeks to break this cycle of poverty. Thanks to the continued support of United Methodist Women, the children, mostly between 3 and 6 years of age, receive two meals—a bowl of porridge for breakfast and a simple lunch—every school day, from Monday to Friday. Many of the children arrive at school without having eaten breakfast or without a packed lunch because their parents cannot afford to feed them. Sometimes the meals at school are the only ones a child receives.
The support of United Methodist Women has also enabled the purchase of educational materials and toys for the children to use while in school. The educational value of each activity is emphasized to give the children the strongest foundation possible before they attend primary school. Coloring books and child-friendly crayons and pencils have been purchased especially to assist in the development of their fine motor skills. In the very cold winter months, winter jackets are provided through the school for the children and teachers, as is heating in the classrooms.
Employing Female Teachers
The school also has a special mission to employ more female teachers and to enhance the skills of the teachers through additional training courses and education. The support of United Methodist Women has enabled the employment and training of four female teachers, all of whom the school is exceedingly proud. One teacher has completed an external training course in early childhood development and has now met the minimum requirements needed under South African law to be employed as principal of the school. A project coordinator sends profuse thanks to United Methodist Women for its compassionate and consistent love. He proudly shares the stories of the four female teachers:
“At the beginning of 2013, Ms. Mary-Ann Engelbrecht officially became the very first qualified principal of Shalom House through the partnership with United Methodist Women. This was her second qualification due to this partnership with you, which legally qualified her to become a principal.
We employed a youth pastor who will focus on building up and growing a youth ministry within our community. This is already bearing fruit as we have witnessed an explosion of youth interested in our new program. As of 2014, our youth pastor will start her theological studies to equip her calling into ministry. This is also thanks to our continued partnership with your organization.
Also due to this partnership, a second teacher will graduate with her first qualification in education this year. We have employed a teacher who could not afford to complete her qualification as a social worker. In 2014, she will resume her studies in social work. Once she has completed her studies, she will work within the school as a social worker. This will open up new vital areas of ministry for us, from which the children and youth will benefit greatly.
So for now, we are placing a lot of emphasis on the personal growth of our female teachers. Logically, their education will overflow into the development of the school and pupils.”
The challenges that the school continues to face include insufficient staff, increasing demand for daily nutritious meals and the absence of a full-time cleaner to provide a healthy and safe environment for the children.
Also, as the most affordable school in one of the poorest areas, it is too small to serve the needs of the community. With deep regret, we have had to limit the number of children allowed to attend the school. We have decided to move toward establishing our mission school as a recognized preprimary school in the next 3–4 years.
Our children are so happy, and we are in the process of raising funds to develop the school so that they will have not only a school but also a sanctuary and a place of safety. With the development, we will double the number of students we serve as well as employ more women from our community as teachers.
Some days it seems like our vision is being realized, while other days it’s much harder to accomplish all our tasks. But we are determined to succeed, and we keep moving forward. God has provided thus far, and we are excited for the future.